Hardcore Henry

Review by Josh Slater-Williams @jslaterwilliams

Directed by

Ilya Naishuller

Starring

Haley Bennett Sharlto Copley Tim Roth

Anticipation.

Plenty of buzz from last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, though not all favourable.

Enjoyment.

Henry: portrait of a serial killer.

In Retrospect.

Actually, it’s about ethics in video game journalism.

This ultra-violent FPS inspired actioner is about as fun as watching someone else play a video game.

Comparing films to video games doesn’t necessarily carry the stigma it once did, mainly due to the steady infiltration of game textures and language into genre cinema – Tom Cruise vehicle Edge of Tomorrow, for one, fully embraced the game logic of resets and trial-and-error puzzles.

In the case of Hardcore Henry, an action movie told entirely through first-person visuals, the intent seems to be to mimic the video game aesthetic more than any film before, specifically the first-person shooter genre. In form and content, it’s all there: a mute protagonist that’s effectively the viewer, racing to various checkpoints, constant instructions from supporting characters, shaky-cam spasms as Henry gets hit, and numerous weapons to collect along a killing rampage to save a damsel in distress.

Except, the whole putting the audience in Henry’s shoes thing doesn’t work, because the major downside of Ilya Naishuller’s debut feature is that while it looks like a video game, it also apes the worst qualities of the gaming experience. The opening scenes are intriguing due to the sheer ambition of the GoPro choreography, but things quickly become both numbing and aggravating. The numbness comes about because the film never grasps that immersive quality it’s reaching for; you feel less like part of the action and more like you’re watching someone else play a game on speed through with all the cheat codes enabled.

The aggravation is because the vulgar world of Hardcore Henry is peppered with limp attempts at transgression, glaring misogyny and embarrassing comedy routines courtesy of Sharlto Copley as Jimmy, a sidekick who repeatedly regenerates into new, annoying guises when killed by soldiers of telekinetic terror Akan (Danila Kozlovsky, in a performance best described as Tommy Wiseau impersonating Alexander Skarsgård).

Naishuller is clearly a fan of Crank directors Neveldine and Taylor, especially since Hardcore Henry contains an apparent homage/rip-off of the most memorable part of their 2009 film, Gamer: a scene where human avatars participate in a sing-and-dance rendition of Cole Porter’s ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’. Say what you want about Gamer, but at least its makers didn’t seem so insecure as to have its hero insist a penchant for musical numbers doesn’t make him gay.

Published 7 Apr 2016

Tags: Video Game

Anticipation.

Plenty of buzz from last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, though not all favourable.

Enjoyment.

Henry: portrait of a serial killer.

In Retrospect.

Actually, it’s about ethics in video game journalism.

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